Sanjuro (椿三十郎, Tsubaki Sanjūrō) is a 1962 black-and-white Japanese jidaigeki film directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune. It is a sequel to Kurosawa’s 1961 Yojimbo.
Originally an adaptation of the Shūgorō Yamamoto novel Hibi Heian, the script was altered with the success of Kurosawa’s 1961 Yojimbo to incorporate the lead character of that film.
Nine young samurai believe that the lord chamberlain, Mutsuta, is corrupt after he tore up their petition against fraud at court. One of them tells the superintendent Kikui of this and he agrees to intervene. As the nine meet secretly to discuss this at a shrine, a rōnin overhears and cautions them against trusting the superintendent. While at first they do not believe him, he saves them from an ambush. But as their rescuer is about to leave, he realises that Mutsuta and his family must now be in danger and decides to stay and help.
By the time the samurai get to Mutsuta’s house, the chamberlain has been abducted and his wife and daughter are held prisoner there. Following the rōnin’s suggestion, a servant from the house gets the guards drunk, allowing the samurai to free the women. Then the group hide in a house next door to the superintendent’s compound. When Mutsuta’s wife asks the rōnin his name, he looks out of the window at the surrounding camellia trees and says it is 椿三十郎 Tsubaki Sanjūrō, literally “thirty-year-old camellia”. The lady then criticises ‘Sanjuro’ for killing too frequently and insists that “the best sword is kept in its sheath.”
Sanjuro decides to get closer to the corrupt officials and joins their henchman Hanbei, who had previously offered him a job after the ambush at the shrine. Although the samurai distrustfully decide to keep watch on him, Sanjuro realises he is being followed as he walks along with Hanbei, and their shadows are easily captured and bound. Made to believe that a much larger group may be involved, Hanbei leaves to request reinforcements. Sanjuro then frees the four captured samurai, although having to kill all their guards. He tells the four to leave him tied up, then explains to Hanbei on his return that he did not wish to die in a cause in which he had no stake.
The chamberlain’s whereabouts are not discovered until next day, when Mutsuta’s wife and daughter find a piece of the torn petition in the small stream that flows from the superintendent’s compound past their hideout. Since an attack on the officials is impossible with the compound full of armed men, Sanjuro hatches a plan to get the army away by reporting to Hanbei that he saw the rebels at a temple where he was sleeping. Meanwhile he has told his group of samurai that he will send the signal to attack by floating large numbers of camellias down the stream.
The first part of the plan works, with the superintendent’s forces rushing off to the temple; however, Hanbei becomes suspicious after catching Sanjuro trying to drop the camellias into the stream and ties him up. Just as Hanbei is preparing to kill him, the remaining corrupt officials realise that Sanjuro has tricked them – his description of the temple was incorrect. They convince Hanbei not to waste any further time and instead catch up with the superintendent’s forces and have them return as soon as possible. However, Sanjuro tricks the officials into giving the signal for the samurai to come to the rescue. Hanbei returns to find he has been made a fool of once again.
Mutsuta is restored to his position and the superintendent commits hara-kiri, much to the chamberlain’s regret, as he wished to avoid a public scandal. As his family and the loyal samurai are celebrating, they discover that Sanjuro has slipped away. The samurai race off and find Sanjuro and Hanbei about to duel.
Sanjuro is reluctant to fight and tries to dissuade Hanbei, but Hanbei is furious at his loss of dignity and declares he can only find ease by killing Sanjuro. Hanbei draws his sword, but the faster Sanjuro kills him. When the young samurai cheer his victory, Sanjuro becomes angry and says he will kill them if they follow him. His admirers can only kneel and bow as he walks away.
This movie was originally going to be a faithful adaption of a Shûgorô Yamamoto novel called “Peaceful Days”, and was going to be made before Yojimbo (1961), which is about a group of nine samurai who are helped out by two ronin who are inadequate fighters and have to use their wits to trick two evil opposing sides into disposing of each other. The antagonists were changed to a corrupt government body and the tricking two opposing sides into fighting each over element was used for “Yojimbo”. After that film was a success, Toho requested that Akira Kurosawa produce a sequel. He changed the two weak ronin to the powerful Sanjûrô character and rewrote the script to match the tone of “Yojimbo”. In addition, when this was going to be “Peaceful Days”, Kurosawa was only going to write it and Hiromichi Horikawa (his assistant director) was going to direct it and Furankî Sakai and Keiju Kobayashi were to play the two ronin.
- Toshiro Mifune … Sanjuro Tsubaki.
- Tatsuya Nakadai … Hanbei Muroto.
- Yūzō Kayama … Iori Izaka.
- Reiko Dan … Chidori.
- Takashi Shimura … Kurofuji.
- Kamatari Fujiwara … Takebayashi.
- Takako Irie … Mutsuta’s wife.
- Sachio Sakai … Ashigaru.
- Masao Shimizu … Kikui.
- Yūnosuke Itō … Mutsuta, the Chamberlain.
The story is primarily based on Shūgorō Yamamoto’s short story “Peaceful Days” (日日平安 Hibi hei-an). Originally Sanjuro was to be a straight adaptation of the story. After the success of Yojimbo the studio decided to resurrect its popular antihero, and Kurosawa reimagined the script accordingly. But despite a certain element of continuity, the eventual film turned out to be more than just a sequel to Yojimbo for the hero goes on to develop in character from the swashbuckling original.
He is, as before a masterless samurai who preserves his anonymity by the same means. When asked his name in Yojimbo he looks outside and names himself mulberry (Kuwabatake); in Sanjuro he chooses a camellia (Tsubaki). In both cases he gives Sanjūrō (thirty-year-old) as his given name, although in both films he admits to being closer to forty. Having the ronin take the name of local agricultural products rather than a great house or clan reflects a populist turn in contemporary samurai movies. A crucial difference between Yojimbo and Sanjuro, however, is that there is little connection to the Western genre in the sequel. The original was set in an out-of-the-way border town where the hero deals ruthlessly with local thugs, while in Sanjuro the action centres on a Japanese feudal power struggle in a clan fortress town. There the hero realises that Hanbei, his main opponent, is a man much like himself: a social outsider (an “unsheathed sword” in the words of the chamberlain’s wife) free to pick his own side in a conflict. The difference between them is only in the motives behind their choice.
There is also a greater element of social comedy, with the seasoned fighter constantly hampered by the failure to grasp the true situation by the young men he chooses to help. But while he is their superior in tactics, the lady he has just rescued confounds him by insisting that he restrain himself, since killing people is a bad habit. Although there has to be some killing, largely as result of the inept actions of his young allies, the only truly violent moment comes at the very end in the duel between Sanjuro and Hanbei. From this he walks away in a fury, because his young admirers are still unable to read human nature and understand the significance of what has just happened.
Sanjuro was released on 01 January 1962 in Japan where it was distributed by Toho. The film was also released in the same year in the United States.
Sanjuro was Toho’s highest-grossing film in 1962, coming second place for the highest grossing Japanese productions in 1962. It earned ¥450.1 million in distributor rentals at the Japanese box office in 1962, exceeding King Kong vs. Godzilla, which had sold 11.2 million tickets in Japan that year.
Mifune’s sword fighting in the film was used in an extensive illustrated example of “samurai virtuosity with his sword” in This Is Kendo, a 1989 kendo manual published in English.
The film has been positively received by critics.
The film was remade as Tsubaki Sanjuro in 2007 by Yoshimitsu Morita and starring Yūji Oda in the title role.
- When Sanjûrô has to kill about a dozen of Kikui’s men and then smacks three of the young samurai for forcing him to kill so many, Toshirô Mifune slapped the three young actors for real.
- As seen in the film, the slaps both surprised the actors and knocked them backwards.
- Mutsuta’s wife (portrayed by Takako Iris) is shown to have blackened teeth.
- This was a customary Japanese way of signifying that a woman was married, especially fashionable with courtiers in the Imperial Court.
- This practice is known as ohaguro.
- All of the camellias used in the film were artificial.
- The leaves were real and taken from a Sakai plant.
- Every morning before shooting, the leaves were replaced to prevent them from looking old.
- The scene where a single blossom falls into a rushing stream was difficult to pull off.
- Originally the crew considered using piano wire but were afraid the light glinting on it would show up on film.
- A female costume designer suggested unraveling a woman’s stocking and using the nylon due to its strength and invisibility.
- When it worked, property master Shoji Jinbo said the happiness he felt at that moment was “indescribable”.
- While most of the sets were built in the studio or out in the lot, the shrine in the first scene was a real, unused shrine in Gotemba.
Production & Filming Details
- Akira Kurosawa.
- Ryûzô Kikushima … producer (as Ryuzo Kikushima).
- Tomoyuki Tanaka … producer.
- Akira Kurosawa (story and screenplay).
- Ryuzo Kikushima (screenplay).
- Hideo Oguni (screenplay).
- Shugoro Yamamoto (novel).
- Masaru Sato.
- Fukuzo Koizumi.
- Takao Saito.
- Toho Company (presents).
- Kurosawa Production Co.
- Toho Company (1962) (Japan) (theatrical).
- Toho Company (1963) (USA) (theatrical) (subtitled).
- Sandrew Film & Teater (1966) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- Orb Films (1970) (UK) (theatrical) (subtitled).
- Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) (1975) (USA) (TV).
- Palace Video (1983) (UK) (VHS).
- Festival Records (1990) (Australia) (VHS).
- Festival Video (1990) (Australia) (VHS).
- Arte Vidéo (2001) (France) (DVD).
- Cowboy Pictures (2002) (USA) (theatrical) (re-release).
- Toho Video (2002) (Japan) (DVD).
- BFI Video (2003) (UK) (DVD).
- Sandrews (2003) (Sweden) (DVD).
- The Criterion Collection (2004) (USA) (DVD).
- Wild Side Vidéo (2006) (France) (DVD).
- New KSM (2008) (Germany) (DVD).
- The Criterion Collection (2009) (USA) (DVD).
- Toho Video (2009) (Japan) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- The Criterion Collection (2010) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- trigon-film (2012) (Austria) (theatrical).
- trigon-film (2012) (Germany) (theatrical).
- trigon-film (2012) (Switzerland) (theatrical).
- WOWOW (2012) (Japan) (TV).
- trigon-film (2012) (Germany) (DVD) (special edition).
- trigon-film (2012) (Switzerland) (DVD) (special edition).
- Future Film (2015) (Finland) (Blu-ray) (DVD) (6-disc Akira Kurosawa: Samurai Masterpiece Collection).
- Aito Mäkinen (1963) (Finland) (theatrical).
- Centrala Wynajmu Filmów (1968) (Poland) (theatrical).
- Kommanditbolaget Mårten Kihlman Ky & Co (1981) (Finland) (theatrical).
- Titanus (1968) (Italy) (theatrical).
- Sandrew Metronome Distribution (2004) (Finland) (DVD) (as part of Akira Kurosawa Box 2).
- Sandrew Metronome Distribution (2005) (Finland) (DVD).
- Yleisradio (YLE) (2005) (Finland) (TV).
- Release Date: 01 January 1962 (Japan).
- Rating: A.
- Running Time: 96 minutes.
- Country: Japan.
- Language: Japanese and English (subtitles).